Saturday, August 05, 2017

Getting Students to Think

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Most of my students cannot think well. Most of them are capable of learning how to think. My task is to awaken the sleeping giant.

The Internet has ruined them. Yale University professor David Gelerntner says "the internet gives us the news and assists our research, but it is mostly used for low purposes, a glorified fidget spinner, trolling device..."

My philosophy courses are as much about critical thinking as they are about content. This will be demonstrated on day 1 of my MCCC philosophy of religion class, as I present Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's Existence.

1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.
2. Therefore, God exists.

I may add the modal version of this argument (from modal logic).

1. It is possible that a necessarily existing being exists.
2. Therefore, God exists.

We will begin the class by spending up to three days on this argument. I want them to experience the intuitive "Aha!" like Oxford philosopher Bertrand Russell had. Russell reports this moment of illumination:

"I remember the precise moment, one day in 1894, as I was walking along Trinity Lane, when I saw in a flash (or thought I saw) that the ontological argument in valid. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco; on my way back, I suddenly threw it up in the air, and exclaimed as I caught it: “Great Scott, the ontological argument is sound*.”"  

When this happens in my students, they have been awakened from their Internet coma. They have begun to think.

A "sound" argument, in logic, is one which is formally valid, with true premises.